Jamaica Summer Cooler

Get ready for the most delicious and refreshing drink for those hot summer days.  Agua de jamaica (pronouced huh-my-ka) is a fresh Mexican juice made from dried roselle flowers, called jamaica in Spanish.  The deep garnet red color will make you go wild, and its tangy taste resembling cranberries will make you swoon.

While studying abroad in Mexico, I discovered aguas frescas, fresh juices available on every street corner.  In the heat of a summer day, friends and I would walk out to the main plaza, order an agua fresca, sit and watch the world go by or watch the stray dogs and old men with cowboy hats take naps around the park.  The juices were served in tall plastic bags with a straw.  Wrapping the bag around the straw held the juice in place so we could suck it up.  Agua Fresca flavors ranged from watermelon (sandia), strawberry (fresa), horchata (a cinnemon rice drink), and, always my favorite, jamaica.  This is a very easy recipe with 3 ingredients: water, dried jamaica flowers, and sugar.  Like cranberry juice, jamaica juice is good for digestion and bladders.

Printable Recipe: Agua de Jamaica (Fresh Jamaica Juice)

Start with 2 heaping cups of dried jamaica flowers, available at any Latin market.In a large stainless steel pot, add 8 cups of water and the flowers.Over medium heat, bring the water and flowers to a boil.  Once it reaches a boil, turn off the heat and let the liquid cool down, between 1- 1.5 hours.  During this rest time, the dried flowers will continue to exude their flavor. (Did you forget about the resting flowers?  No worries, I’ve forgotten the jamaica juice for 6 hours before and just added a cup of water to help dilute it.  For each hour and a half that you forget it, I’d add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water.)

Using a colander, carefully drain the juice into a pitcher and discard the flowers.  CAUTION: jamaica juice stains whatever it comes in contact with, so be extra cautious draining it. Dissolve 1 cup of sugar to the juice.  However, this part is completely up to your taste preferences.  I like my juice tangy with a tiny touch of sweet flavor.  If you need more sugar, add it in 1/4 cup at a time, mix, then taste again until you are satisfied.  1 cup is my perfect satisfaction spot.

To serve, fill up a glass with ice cubes, then pour in agua de jamaica.  Relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy.  Feeling extra special?  Add springs of mint or a lemon slice.  Drink it plain or use it in place of cranberry juice in mixed drinks.


Tangy, Minty Black-eyed Pea Salsa

This black-eyed pea salsa starred alongside Kahlua-Spiked Ice Cream Pie for our End of the World BBQ.  It’s a sweet and tangy salsa with plenty of substance from the black-eyes peas, bell peppers, corn, and tomatoes.  The addition of mint gives the salsa a tropical feel to match its brilliant rainbow of red, green, yellow, mixed with the dual-toned peas.

Printable Recipe: Tangy, Minty Blackeyed Pea Salsa.

First, create the dressing by adding rice wine vinegar, olive oil, cumin, ground mustard, salt, and the zest and juice of 2 limes.  Rice wine vinegar has a sweeter taste than others, not quite as pungent as other vinegars.  Limes feel more tropical to me, but I’m sure lemons would be a fine substitute (although use 1 only since they are larger than limes).  Whisk all of this together and let it sit.While the dressing sets, prep and mix the remaining ingredients.  Finely dice up the red onion.Cut the red and green bell peppers into strips, then turn them to dice into small pieces about the size of corn kernels.  Combine all the diced vegetables in your large bowl.  Add the minced garlic.To prep the tomatoes, I used Roma, cut them in half, then slice each half into 4 long half-moons.  Turn these half moon slices to the side and dice to make small pieces the size of corn kernels (noticing a pattern?).Drain and wash the black-eyed peas and corn and drop them in with the peppers and onions.Pour the dressing on top of the salsa.  Mix with your hands because it’s more fun.Strip the mint of its leaves and discard the stalks.  Layer the mint leaves on top of one another.  Aim for 7-9 leaves, more takes a little dexterity.  Roll up the leaves as if they were a cigar wrapper.   Thinly slice the stacked and rolled leaves.  You will have tiny ribbons of mint.  Your hand will smell like mint and it will freshen up your entire kitchen.  Mint is exhilarating like that.  This simple process has a fancy French name, chiffonade.  Use it at your next cocktail party.

Of course you can start munching on the salsa (I had it for dinner the night before the BBQ), but it really develops its flavor through overnight refrigeration.  Take it out a few hours before the party to bring the salsa to room temperature.  I love it with blue tortilla chips.  I may be a snob, but in my humble opinion, blue tortilla chips have better corn flavor, plus it adds another cool color to the mix.

My First Half Marathon, the unexpected Part 4

Don’t miss out on what English teachers, like myself, call the exposition or the set up and build up of the story.
Part 1: Night Before Preparation
Part 2: Pre-Race Excitement
Part 3: The Race itself (part 1)

After my 1 mile walk break, I knew I would have to start running again because my body sure was getting comfortable walking albeit speed-walking.  I changed my ipod to my “Pump It” list full of club and electronic music.  Songs that I promised myself in training I would never, ever walk to.  In an agonizing adjustment, my body became like steel, frozen and heavy.  The only way to get through this was to attempt to separate my mind from my body and swim in the music.

Apparently I picked up my pace, since I got to Kris’ last support stop quicker than he expected.  I was so focused on the drumming base in my headphones that I didn’t even see him at mile 10.5.  I asked for a quick hug to keep me moving.

Barely smiling, but still going

I remember seeing mile marker 11 on the first leg of the race, so I knew exactly when it was coming up. I kept thinking, “Oh my God, just 2 more miles, I do 3 all the time at the gym, come on, 2 more.”  By this point I was relying on the repetition of 5 songs to keep me jogging: “Blow” by Kei$ha, “Ghosts n Stuff” by deadmaus, “Satisfaction” by Benni Benasi, “Only Girl” by Rihanna, and “Take Over Control” by Afrojack.  Miraculously I made it to mile 12. Finished runners were walking back, calling out, “You’re almost there!”

My body was weak.  I was desperate.  My mind and body constantly fought each other for control of my movements.  Sometime after the 12-mile marker, I had to walk because I was determined to run the last part of the race.  I walked approximately ½ mile, then saw the 13-mile sign.  I reset “Take Over Control” and picked up my pace.  I was going to conquer that last mile.  Here are some pictures from the race photographers.  How was I so silly and upbeat after 12 miles?  It remains a mystery.Race volunteers encouraged us.  “See the white tents over there?  That’s the end, you’re almost there!”  Well, yeah I saw the tents, but I wanted to know EXACTLY where the finish line was.  Random white tents above the tree line were too nebulous for me.  “Just a quarter mile left!”  In the middle of the race path, I saw a paramedic putting a woman on a stretcher, but it didn’t phase me; my mind was on one thing: the finish line.  It flashed after I skirted around the paramedics.  My sense of pride had kept hidden a last boost of energy, and I sprinted.  Whatever was left in my whole being conspired together to help me sprint that last tenth of a mile.

The final sprint

I saw the time clicking away, getting closer to 3 hours.  I ran even faster, trying to get in under the 3 hour mark.  I crossed at 3:00:46, but with adjusted time, since I didn’t cross the start line right away, my time was actually 2:59:52, just under 3 hours!  Exhausted and not thinking straight, I wasn’t sure where the finish line was-the white sign or the end of the mat, so I ran to the volunteer, making sure I crossed the blue mat so I was fully finished.I got a medal, and a volunteer asked me to wait while she took off my ankle timer.  I was thankful for that since I didn’t think I could bend my legs.  Kris found me and gave me a giant hug.  Out of exhaustion I exclaimed, “I know I’m not supposed to sit down, honey.  I’m supposed to keep my legs moving so they don’t cramp up, but all I want to do right now is sit.”  I didn’t even wait for his reply.  I found a table nearby and collapsed in the chair.  I drank some water, and Kris gave me an apple.  Its juicy sweetness refreshed me.  With every bite, I chewed methodically, crunching the soft apple meat and tough skin.  I felt each piece drop into the abyss of my stomach.  This apple must have been what Adam and Eve felt tasting the apple in the Garden of Eden.

My sister joined us and gave me a fabulous sign. Remember the paramedics at the end of the race?  Ironically, while taking pictures, Kris got a call from the race organizers saying that paramedics took his race participant to Alameda Hospital after she collapsed.  He explained that I was standing right in front of him.  The lady on the stretcher had the same last name as me, and her name started with an “S.” I suppose since my name is Sarah, they just called the first name on the list.  Kinda surreal since I had passed her less than 10 minutes ago.

Remembering the advice from the lady at the beginning of the race, “The first rule is don’t lose your champagne ticket; the second is have fun,” I scoped out the various tents for my glass and the champagne station.  As much as I was looking forward to it, after jogging/walking for 13.1 miles, the bubbly alcoholic drink just didn’t seem too appealing, but my apple still was.  Still Kris and I toasted with the champagne and some water while taking our final pictures of the day.  What a feat!

My First Half Marathon!! Part 3: The Race Itself

I’ve got a lot to say about my first half marathon.  Here are the 2 previous pieces of the story.
Part 1: Night Before Preparation
Part 2: Pre-Race Excitement

Part 3: The Race Itself I have broken it up into 2 pieces since it’s a long story.  I know, what started as 2 posts, then became 3, now has 4.

It was a perfect day for a race, cool, sunny with some cloud cover so the sun wasn’t too harsh, and best of all, perfectly clear.  So clear that during much of the race, we had a perfect panorama of San Francisco and its Southern peninsula. The start of the race was a little hectic as people tried to space out and set their pace.  I began nice and easy, not wanting to exert too much energy since I wanted to push myself.  I had only gone on a 9-mile jog/walk before, so I was very scared that I wouldn’t be able to finish.  On my ipod I started with a “This American Life” podcast called, “The Psychopath Test.”  It made me laugh and gasp in shock, exactly what I needed to distract my mind from running.  The first (and last) leg of the race scooted along the San Francisco Bay, and on this clear day the view inspired confidence.

At mile 4, Kris made his first spectator appearance; we’d planned 4.  Pace was constant, hydration excellent; I felt good.  Here are a couple of photos.  I’m in the teal tank top.

Being silly helps pass the time

Shortly after these photos, at mile 5, we got some of the gu long distance runners use.  It’s an electrolyte enhanced energy gel-“food.”  The race information packet had said we’d get gu at mile 7, so I felt exhilarated, wrongfully thinking I was already half done and maybe the mile markers were off.  A volunteer dangled the packet in the air, and I snatched it, ripping the top, curious what this gu stuff really was.  It was blackberry flavor, but tasted and felt like sugary glue, coating my teeth, gums, inner cheeks, and tongue in its viscousness.  I only had half because I thought it would make me vomit from its sugary taste and stick-to-everything texture.  Gulping down water helped wash out its stickiness.  I vowed to not eat anymore gu, even though my husband had said, “You’ll get really hungry, and the gu will help.”  So far, my stomach was fine I thought, and I don’t want that nasty gel-food.

My body was starting to rebel, but I was able to just keep telling myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  When we passed mile 6, I realized the mile markers weren’t off, the passing out of the gu was.  My stomach started to contract on itself.  My nerves prevented me from eating much breakfast, all I had was a piece of toast with almond butter.  Kris’ warning about hunger began to materialize.

We snaked our way through a commercial area.  Then, a little after mile 7, the ocean view snuck up on us again, giving a boost of salt fresh air.

San Francisco around mile 7

Kris took these fabulous photos, I was a little busy.

SF peninsula view

Kris made his second support appearance; he’d found a friend who was cheering his wife on.  Coincidently, Kris saw this man 3 times throughout the race.  I challenged myself to keep running past my husband, which was another way I played mind games with myself to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Awww...my husband makes me smile even after running 7 miles

My stomach felt like a Ferris wheel, and just after mile 8, we received another gu packet, I randomly grabbed a vanilla.  Maybe it was my hunger, maybe the different flavor, but vanilla wasn’t quite as vomit-inducing as blackberry, still sweet but not as much, and it did somewhat (I use this word generously) taste like vanilla.  The glue-like texture however felt counter-intuitive: I wanted the gu to go down into my stomach, not cling to every surface area of my teeth and cheeks.   Swishing water moved it down into my stomach to help tame the hungry beast.  At this point, I walked for 1 mile, “savoring” the calories from the gu packet.  To be continued…

My First Half Marathon!! Part 2: The Pre-Race Excitement

Click here if you missed Part 1: the Nervous Night Before

Obsessive that I am, we got to the race an hour and a half early, got my registration and the timing chip which shackles around the left ankle.  There was nothing left to do except wait, which only reminded me of how nervous I was.  I went to the bathroom 4 times in that limbo period; I was even the first person to go to the bathroom in one of the Porta Potties; they actually smell like chemical cleaner at the beginning.

As the time started to get closer and closer, more and more women showed up, including these awesome ladies sporting tutus for their half marathon.  I loved it. People had orange pirate bandanas, rainbow striped leg warmers (remember those from the 80s?), and red shirts that said “Red Diva Lady” on the back.  I wish I had pictures of all the ways people try to stand out in the crowd and have fun.

The MC for the morning was warming up with funky chicken dance moves and wild head bobbing.  She was fabulous at alleviating pre-race jitters At 7:40, she led a funky warm up to 1980s music, including her funny, borderline crass aerobic commentary.  She’d call out an exercise and 2 ladies dressed in outlandish fluorescent rainbow costumes with hot pink and blue wigs would demonstrate.  “When you squat and jump I want to see everything bounce,” she said, creating a stir of laughter from the crowd; it was a predominately female event.Nervous anticipation diminished with our entertaining warm-up, and at 7:58, all of us, about 1200 women and a sprinkling of men, lined up and waited expectantly at the start.  It was the first half marathon for a woman in front of me.  Her friend told her, “The number one rule is to have fun.”  Then she hesitated and told the See-Jane-Run-virgin, “Wait, the number one rule is don’t lose your champagne ticket for after the race.  Number two is have fun.”  I smiled at that, fingering my own champagne ticket attached to my race bib.  Some women started to run in place, waiting for the moment to bolt.  At 8 am on the dot, the MC hollered for us to start, and 1200 people, myself included got a-runnin’.  

My First Half Marathon!! Part 1: Night Before Preparation

I started in February barely able to run an entire mile, and yet on Sunday, June 5, 2011, I ran my first 1/2 marathon, 13.1 miles.  What an incredible feat.  I have so much to tell that I’m going to make it into 3 (it used to be 2) posts, so part one is about preparation the night before.  Part 2 will be the hilarious pre-race happenings.  Part 3 will relate my experience during the race.  Enjoy.Kris helped me prepare the night before.  Since it’s been sporadically showering in NorCal the past couple of days, I was anxiously expecting rain and having to run 13.1 miles in showers.  Kris had me lay out my clothes for his inspection: black running pants (borrowed from my mom, so they are a petite size and sometimes look like floods), my teal sports bra, teal tank top, and husband-borrowed long sleeved-mesh top.  There’s a reason I’m called “kleptomaniac” by my family members.  Kris also scoured our camping gear for an old rain cover he used back in his running days; it would keep me reasonably dry.

We also packed a change of clothes.  I knew that if I was going to be sopping wet, I’d want to change the first instant that I could and wrap my feet in my fake Uggs.We got simple snacks ready for after the race.  Kris said I’d be very hungry, boy was he right about that.  Those green apples were some of the most delicious apples I’ve ever had in my life.  They were juicy and sweet, light, crisp and refreshing; perfect for after the race, water and a little sugar and fiber.We looked at the course map and planned out four places Kris would meet me at.  For Kris, we got a blanket, umbrella, extra jacket, folding chair, plus the current book he’s reading.Of course if there was anything that would get me though this race it would be water and music.  I made some last minute purchases on itunes for my “Pump It” playlist, both recommendations from students; they seem to be more up to speed on current music trends.  I definitely made sure that the ipod was charged.  Kris got a gallon of water ready (he thought I might get thirsty); in addition 2 water bottles to swap in case I needed more.  We placed these at the entry table.  Right, in case we forgot everything else, at least I’d have water and music.I was so nervous the night before, and when I get nervous, I have to pee A LOT.  In the 2 hour period before going to bed, I must have gone to the bathroom 6-7 times, and that’s not an exaggeration.   Insomnia also plagues me when I am nervous, and I got about 4 hours of solid sleep.

At 6 am, with the sun peeking its way behind the clouds, we set out.  It was a beautiful morning, the kind that can come only after a hard rain like Saturday’s.  The air was clean, fresh, and held a sense of anticipation for the day to begin.  Here’s the first photo of the day; it’s all fake bravado by the way.Part 2: Gettin’ Ready during Pre-Race soon to come.

My First Strawberries

I have exactly 4 round, ripe, red strawberries, each with a white and green hat on top.  They remind me of southern ladies going to church, each with a different body shape.  The first is the petite pear shape, slim top, round bottom with full hips.  The second is the tall, thin one towering over the others.  The third is the top-heavy lady with the small hips.  Last, is the full-figured maven with the commanding presence.

Lots of potential fruits here

This is my first time growing strawberries which are low to the ground.  I’ve been worried about fruits laying on the soil accumulating extra moisture.  Two of my strawberries have circles where the skins sink in like mini potholes.  My fear of damage could be why I possibly picked them too early (hence the white tops).

A little leeway here, I am a novice at the is-this-ripe-question.  All signs pointed to ready.  They are supple to the touch.  Their smell is like candy, and that red color reminds me of a pair of sexy high heels that I’m too afraid to wear in public.  That’s how I knew it was time to pick; they screamed for attention.

Only 4 strawberries.  Not enough for any recipe that I know of.  No matter.  For now I want their essence: pure, unadulterated strawberry sweetness.

Almost Tuna Puttanesca

This may sound odd, but an advertisement in the ladies’ locker room of my gym inspired me to make this recipe.  I was changing into workout gear, looked up and saw a most tempting picture of Tuna Puttanesca.  Perfect timing too, it was about 5:30 pm, I had an hour workout ahead of me and was already thinking about how quickly I could make dinner once I got home, without having to stop at the grocery store.

Enter the classic Italian dish named after whores, Spaghetti Puttanesca.  I guess there is more than one way they can save the day. It’s a mix of salty, spicy, and LOTS of crisp garlic.  Instead of the traditional anchovies, which due to a high school job at a pizza parlor I will never be able to eat, the locker room advertisement used canned tuna, cheaper and less traumatic.  I call this recipe “almost” puttanesca because we were lacking 1 ingredient which would have added a surprise saltiness to the canned tuna, kalamata olives; I didn’t want to go to the grocery for only 1 ingredient (though this happens quite often).

Printable PDF: Tuna Puttanesca


Start with 1/2 package of Kamut Noodles (7 ounces).  Kamut has a much nuttier flavor than regular wheat noodles.  If you can’t find them, go with whole wheat noodles for health reasons; this is a recipe from the wall of the gym.Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan.  Add in 1/2 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes.  Turn the heat to low and slowly infuse the oil with a spicy kick.Add in the minced, fresh garlic.  That would be 6-8 cloves.  I promise it’s not so much that your pores will reek garlic odor for several days, but once it starts to cook (over low heat, remember garlic burns easily) your entire house will aromatize.  It’s delicious!Take a handful of fresh asparagus.  Run your knife to slice them into small circles and add them to the pan. Pour in 1/4 cup of chicken broth (Oh I wish I had some dry white wine, but remember how I didn’t want to go to the grocery store?).  Also add the spices dried marjoram and dried parsley (It’s OK to substitute other spices, but limit it to 2-3, and try to stick to green, earthy tasting ones like oregano, thyme, basil, etc.)Drain 2 cans of water-packed tuna (not on a diet?  go for oil packed then).  Break up the tuna with a wooden spoon.  Make sure to coat the tuna with all the great flavors in the pan.Add 1 heaping tablespoon of capers.  They are very salty and not for the faint of heart.Open up a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes and pour it, juice and all, on top.  If you have kalamatas this is your chance to put them in for added salty flavor.Finally, add the zest and juice of 2 lemons.  Make sure to zest first, then cut them in half, then add the juice; makes things easier.  Optional: season with salt and pepper- it should have enough salt (from capers and olives) and spice (from the red pepper flakes), but to each his/her own.